“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing has happened to you.” 1 Peter 4:12
Yes, but we do think it strange! We don’t think that way every moment but when serious pain or loss enters we cry out and want it to stop. The Hebrew writer voiced that sense of things for us when he said of Jesus (5:8), “Though He was a Son yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered.” Despite the fact that He was God’s Son He suffered—one wouldn’t have thought He would since He was God’s Son—but He did!
The Temptation narrative has Satan voicing the same thing. The particle can be rendered “if” or “since”—context determines. Either works here. “If you’re God’s Son you shouldn’t be going hungry; turn the stones into bread!” More than three psalmists (see 22, 44 & 88) speak our minds. The psalmists wonder how things could be going so bad with them when they were part of a covenanted people. They knew they weren’t sinless but they also knew that God knew they were sinners when He made a covenant with them. Psalm 22 and 88 are more individualistic than 44. When agony came on them they laid it at God’s feet (Job does the same thing and so does God who “put forth His hand” and took from Job all He had given him—42:11 with 1:11-12; 2:5-6).
Psalmists and prophets could understand that when the nation apostatizes God may well respond in severe chastisement (Psalm 106 & Amos 4 illustrate). In such circumstances we speak of it as “punishment” but there were those who were bewildered because they hadn’t walked away from God, had held Him to be their God since they were born (Psalm 22:1-10). “Why me?” they want to know. “What have I done that this should come on me? Don’t you love me?” These protests, this bewilderment triggered by anguish is not strange. It makes good sense! Peter can say all he wants about it not being strange but we don’t believe him or at least, we don’t understand him.
In the great movie Glory Thomas is a young black gentleman, well-read and sensitive to what is going on in the world (his father being a fervent abolitionist). He is a close and long-time friend of Robert Gould Shaw who came to be the colonel-commander of the first African-American division in the northern army during the civil war. Thomas is the first man to enlist when he heard his boyhood friend is heading up that company but he discovers that his boyhood friend has now become his commanding officer and will not permit friendly fraternizing. Thomas is stunned, it is experienced as rejection and we see it on his face. Half astonishment, half bewilderment and total disbelief. His face says it all: “What? Did I do something? What did I do? It’s me, Thomas, your dear friend since boyhood…”
He was the only black gentleman in the entire regiment that felt isolated and he felt isolated and mistreated precisely because he had had and still felt from his perspective a special relationship with the commander of the force. He was anguished not because the commander was treating him differently from all his fellows but because the leader was not treating him differently. After all, they had history, a long standing relationship—friendship must mean something. Through a long painful period he comes to understand why he can’t be given special treatment; but it is through and via a long agonizing period that he learns it. And there’s this: he bonds with his fellows who never knew the blessing of the intimacy, the warmth and friendship of anyone with such power as the colonel. His privileged place and comfort had robbed him of understanding of and fellowship with his brothers. The movie closes with the leader, Thomas and the entire company marching together in glorious unity of heart and purpose. But it was through pain! Anguish!
Yes, but, why through pain, why anguish?
(To be continued, God enabling)
(Holy Father, who through pain and anguish sought us, help us to understand that we might honor you and sing your praises in a strange land.)